Does the World Need a Larger iPhone?

April 11th, 2012

Along with reports that there will be an iPad mini some time in our near or distant future, there’s yet another report — equally unconfirmed — that has it that the next iPhone must be the long-awaited total redesign. Since Apple is redesigning the thing, why not a larger screen?

Now in today’s smartphone market, the present iPhone, with a 3.5-inch display, must seem strikingly diminutive. It fits easily in one’s pants or shirt pocket. With all those Android smartphones — and the Nokia Lumia 900 with the Windows Phone OS — sporting larger screens, I suppose some of you might feel Apple is somewhat behind the curve.

Perhaps this is part of the bigger, better syndrome. More power, bigger screens, must all combine to yield a superior customer experience. There’s even a 13-inch tablet on the market, part of the Toshiba Excite family, although that size kinda defeats a fair amount of the portability factor. But I suppose it looked good in the company’s PowerPoint presentations.

Unfortunately, Consumer Reports — ever deficient in understanding how to properly review tech gear — has validated the value of smartphones with bigger displays. Some of those models were rated equal to or better than the iPhone 4s in a recent feature, regardless of other considerations, such as the usability of the OS. CR is only considering perceived touch response and little else.

So what is the iPhone 5 — if that’s what Apple chooses to call it — going to be like? I suspect Apple might be forced kicking and screaming into avoiding the specter of a possible iPhone 4GS, simply because they already got hammered by ill-informed tech pundits over the 4S. So the chatter has it that the next iPhone revision will mean a new case with an aluminum backing similar to the unibody on Mac note-books. Apple’s compromise on the display size front would be to reduce the borders of the screen, keep the size of the unit only a tad larger than it is now, and go to a 4-inch screen.

I’m sure you realize that a new display size has the potential to cause difficulties for iOS developers who only have to consider the four schemes now: The iPhone with and without the Retina Display, and the new and old iPad with similar setups. A different aspect ratio would be a non-starter.

One possible solution is for Apple to simply keep the screen resolution as it is now. That way, developers don’t have to change a thing. The Retina Display would still be technically a Retina Display, but only if you hold the iPhone several inches farther from your face.

The theory sounds good enough. You tend to hold a portable gadget with a larger display farther away from your face anyway, so the text would seem about as sharp and clear as it does now. Perhaps other enhancements in the panels Apple uses would provide superior eye-popping impact as well. It seems a worthy compromise, and Apple wouldn’t necessarily be kowtowing to the industry trends that accommodate several screen sizes ranging from 4.3-inches up to five inches.

Now I suppose the critics will demand that Apple deliver a larger iPhone, for otherwise they are in danger of falling behind the intensifying competition. Published reports that AT&T might invest as much as $150 million to advertise the Lumia 900 might be another reason for Apple to believe that some sort of response is necessary.

At the same time, it’s well known that Apple regularly experiments with different sized products, and will only put a new model into production if it passes suites of internal quality and usability testing. No, Apple doesn’t play the focus group game, but surely their product designers will understand the value of different form factors, and what might get the best reception from customers. It’s predicting what the customer will like that puts Apple head and shoulders ahead of most tech companies.

But the ultimate question is this: Will Apple really deliver an iPhone with a larger screen? Does it make sense, or is 3.5 inches quite enough for most customers? Doesn’t the media realize that Apple never played the model proliferation game?

From my not-so-humble point of view, yes I’d like to see a 4-inch iPhone, and I don’t think I’d find the larger pixel size a significant negative at a normal viewing distance. There are times when I chafe at the smaller screen of today’s iPhone and grab an iPad to perform some sort of task. But I also appreciate the fact that the existing model is quite portable, and handling a larger device might just be inconvenient. As I said, the iPhone 4s fits nicely into a regular pants or shirt pocket. I realize pockets are of different sizes, but I find it just about right for my left pocket, which shares a wallet. If the iPhone were just a bit larger, it would be awkward to remove in a rush to answer a phone call.

The convenience issue is certainly only one consideration that Apple must evaluate as it finalizes design of the next iPhone. Will the display be a little larger? I may be totally wrong about this, but I think it will be.

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3 Responses to “Does the World Need a Larger iPhone?”

  1. dfs says:

    There are only two reasons I might like a larger iPhone or iPod Touch, and neither has to do with screen size. The first is that I might be willing to sacrifice a bit the comfort and ease of the current size in exchange for a bigger battery and therefore longer battery life. The second, at least in the case of the Touch, is that I’d put up with a larger size if that were necessary to exchange the current embarrassment of a camera for something halfway decent.

  2. javaholic says:

    A mate of mine has the Samsung Galaxy II phone. Next to my iPhone 4 that thing’s big. Samsung are obviously betting we’re all suddenly going to start developing larger hands overtime to use their smart whatever’s, however the physical size doesn’t make it easy for single-handed (thumb) use (if that’s your thing) and it’s hardly pocket friendly – something I like on the iPhones current form factor.

    So what is it we’re wanting to do exactly? – go back to using bricks again because everyone now wants bigger screens? Obviously a bigger display is one way Samsung need compete and I can see the benefits for some. But I also remember a time when cell phone shrinkage was the in thing – key for portability. Still, if Apple could make the current retina screen almost the whole size of the current iPhone form factor, that’d be interesting 😉

  3. Kaleberg says:

    Ask yourself the same question Apple is asking itself. How many more iPhones would they sell if they produced a larger iPhone? Where is the demand? My impression is that Apple is selling iPhones flat out, as fast as they can make them, and the only demand for a larger one is in the computer press. How many customers is that?

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